Scientists fear Canada will fish bluefin tuna and other species to extinction - thestar.com
Top marine scientists are denouncing Canada’s management of fish stocks as a commercially driven approach threatening to wipe out species at risk.
The attack comes from two senior members of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) — the body mandated by federal law to advise the government on species at risk.
They note the federal government has consistently refused to list several endangered fish under the Species at Risk Act, which would make their fishing or trade illegal. They include Atlantic cod, cusk and porbeagle shark.
During the act’s 10-year history, “there has not been a commercially exploited fish — assessed as endangered or threatened — that has been included on that list,” says Jeffrey Hutchings, a biology professor at Dalhousie University and member and former chair of COSEWIC.
Commercial interests always trump ecological ones, Hutchings charges. A stark example, he insists, is the porbeagle shark, whose population has declined by at least 85 per cent since the 1960s. It was assessed by COSEWIC as endangered in 2004. The government refused to list it as a species at risk because a handful of Canadians were fishing it.
Today, a dozen fishermen have licences to fish porbeagle in the Atlantic. No one used the licence to fish them this year and only one fisherman did so in each of the last two years. Yet Canada, which fishes more porbeagle than any other country, was roundly criticized last month for blocking a European proposal at an international conference that would have ended porbeagle fishing.
“Our (international) reputation is very poor,” says Alan Sinclair, a COSEWIC expert on fish populations who retired from the federal Department of Fisheries and oceans three years ago.
“We used to be a leader internationally in conservation and protecting our fish resources back in the 1970s and ’80s,” he adds. “Now people look at us and I’m sure they shake their heads and wonder what the heck is going on in Canada.”
Frustration hit a boiling point when Canada pushed for an increase in the bluefin tuna fishing quota at a meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) in November. At the same time back home, the government was consulting Canadians on whether to list bluefin tuna as a species at risk, a process triggered by COSEWIC’s 2011 assessment of bluefin as “endangered.”...
CCAT will be setting up workshops with scientists and government officials to try to resolve what Scattolon calls the recruitment “conundrum.” Until then, critics say Canada should err on the side of caution.
In Canada, Hutchings doesn’t see stock management improving until Canadians become better informed about what he describes as a dire state of affairs.
“There are few if any political costs in this country to making bad ocean management decisions,” says Hutchings, who recently chaired the Royal Society of Canada’s expert panel on marine biodiversity. “If there were political costs, we wouldn’t see these types of decisions being made on an almost routine basis.”
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